Thursday, April 17, 2014
Nature is me. And yes, nature is you too.
How do I know this to be true? Because your photo and recipe entries for the Nature is ME contest prove it each and every day. From images of snowy landscapes, spiders and summits, to recipes for delicious sandwiches and pies, you show how nature is simply a part of who we are in Maine. We are all connected to nature in so many different ways.
But what about conservationists? How are conservationists – people who devote their lives to protecting nature itself – connected to nature? I turned to my friends and colleagues to find out. This week, I chatted with Ted Koffman, executive director of Maine Audubon.
MT: What is your favorite childhood memory of the outdoors?
TK: I first remember going to nature camp which I started attending at five years old. We had a wonderful natural historian who took us on our nature walks –we’d make tea from roots or leaves and she’d weave Indian legends into her narration along the way. It was a very engaging experience with nature.
I also have many fond memories of climbing trees. I would climb up to the very top where I’d sway in the breeze and could hear the birds. I’d feel as if I was about to lift off and fly above the treetops.
MT:What pulls you outside into nature? And what are your favorite outdoor activities?
TK: I need to step outside in the morning to smell the morning air and hear the natural sounds. I love to hear the sounds of nature – the birds, the trees. If it’s raining I’ll go out on the porch and listen to the rain falling on the trees. I like to check in with nature. I walk five days a week from my home to a beach, about a quarter mile away or so, to watch the sunrise – it’s a kind of meditation. I appreciate how lucky I am to live near natural beauty and see it every day.
In terms of outdoor activities, I like to canoe and fly fish. If I can catch a wild brook trout I’ll try to hold it underwater just for a second to see its beautiful scales and all the colors – that’s a great moment. I canoe the Allagash Wilderness Waterway every year with my friends for a week in June. I think I’ve been down about fifty five times now! We have committed to making this trip happen every year no matter what; it’s a treasured time for us.
MT: What hidden treasure in Maine should be at the top of everyone's To-Visit list?
TK: One of the secret places in Maine is Cobscook Bay and the campground there. It’s a marvelous place to visit and get in touch with nature. Acadia National Park also has a lot to offer visitors – a lot of people have yet to see or experience Acadia.
MT: When was the last time you ventured into nature to seek the thrills of adventure? And what did you do?
TK: Our latest trip down the Allagash May 25 to June 3 was particularly thrilling and sometimes challenging. The water was very high due to an extensive period of rainfall. It was more thrilling than I had expected. There was a Cedar branch hanging over the stream, it hit me in the chest and sent me somersaulting out the canoe. There were some exciting thunderstorms with hail, which made big splashes in the river. The drama and adventure of being out in challenging weather on the Allagash and at camp is part of the reason to do the trip.
MT: What is your favorite smell, taste, or sound from nature and why?
TK: The smell I enjoy the most is a particular poplar tree – the balsam poplar, also known as the Balm of Gilead. It gives off a sweet, pungent perfume in June. There are lots of balsam poplars along the Allagash. I also really like the smell of a wood fire, particularly on a rainy night when you’re sitting in camp under a tarp. And I love the sound of the waves at the beach with my eyes closed.
MT:Beach or mountain: which do you prefer and why?
TK: > Mountain. I love the views from the top of a mountain. I like how it takes effort to climb to the top of a mountain to enjoy the view. Beaches are very attractive when you look at them from top of a mountain – whether it’s on a tropical island or in Acadia National Park.
MT: What is the best outdoor experience you've had beyond Maine's borders?
TK: A fishing trip I took with my son about three years ago to Tierra del Fuego in the Patagonia. We had a pick-up truck and camped along the way on ranch land. It’s such a different part of the world than what I’m used to – so big and beautiful.
MT: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned from your experiences in nature?
TK: There are two big ones: one was when I was a boy, around nine or ten years old. I was going down a creek with some other boys and there was a water snake, it was hissing and raising its head trying to defend itself. We killed it. I remember the deep remorse and guilt I felt for harming a helpless thing, it had done nothing wrong.
The second lesson I’ve learned is to appreciate the power of water. Avoid taking risks when it’s stormy and windy and there are high waves– avoid situations you may not be able to get out of later. This applies whether you’re ocean kayaking or crossing a big lake.
MT: If you could thank nature for one thing what would it be?
TK: I’m thankful to nature because it brings out the little boy in me. I’m more playful, more alert, I feel at home when I’m in nature. I feel light. I thank nature for casting a spell on me that takes me back to my nature camp experiences.
Mike Tetreault leads The Nature Conservancy in Maine, where he works with partners in conservation, government and community development to identify solutions which ensure that Maine's natural resources are available for people and for nature.
He holds a degree in environmental studies from Brown and a MS from the field naturalist program at the University of Vermont, and has studied resource management in Kenya, Mexico and throughout New England.
Tetreault started his career teaching wilderness leadership and environmental education, and has worked for The Nature Conservancy since 1998. He lives in Bath with his wife, their daughter and a menagerie of pets.